Boaty McBoatface, Meet Trainy McTrainface

Do Swedish authorities have a better sense of humor than British authorities? Maybe. The British public, in an internet poll, voted to name a new oceanographic research ship Boaty McBoatface (which, for the record, I think is an excellent name for a serious new science platform.) The UK’s Natural Environment Research Council overruled the poll, though, and named the new ship the Royal Research Ship Sir David Attenborough . They didn’t discard the Boaty name, thank Heaven; that name went to the remote submersibles that would be working from the ship. The new Boaty has already gone to work, studying the abyssal currents of the Antarctic, as part of climate warming research.

Meanwhile, in a Swedish poll to name a new train, the spirit of Boaty rose up and won the name of Trainy McTrainface. And the Swedish train authorities said, “You got it!” The new name will go on this handsome train.

 

My Application to Amtrak Is In

Well, I did it. I applied for Amtrak’s writer residency program, #AMTRAKRESIDENCY. I just read that they’ve already received 8000 applications in the few days the program has been open.

The program is not without controversy, to say the least. The terms of application give Amtrak wide latitude to use material submitted to them, at their own discretion, more or less forever. The best discussion of this is probably on the always excellent Writers Beware, which offers some simple suggestions to Amtrak on how to take the sour taste out of the program.

I am in total sympathy with those who think Amtrak’s terms are over the top, probably due to a lawyer who got carried away. They have indicated that they are listening to feedback from writers, and I hope they amend their terms. For my own application, I included a brief excerpt from the beginning of Neptune Crossing—which has already been published, is widely available for free (by my choice), and which I warmly encourage Amtrak to publicize on my behalf. The size of the excerpt pretty much amounts to Fair Use in copyright terms, anyway. If you’re a writer and you’re considering applying, think carefully about those conditions and what you put up.

So yes, Amtrak, I was willing to work with those terms for my own application. But for others, who might have shorter works to offer, or unpublished works, I understand the consternation. I urge you to reconsider the terms. See Writer Beware for simple, common sense ways to do that. In the meantime, I hope you consider my application favorably. I’d really like a nice, long train ride to help me work on my book!

Writing on a Train? Yes, please!

I love trains, and always have. When I was a kid, growing up in Huron, Ohio, I lived maybe half a mile from the New York Central main line (now Amtrak’s) between New York and Chicago. Sometimes we would get ice cream cones and go down to the tracks at about 9 p.m. Nighttime trains were always the best. If they were running on time, we’d get to watch two great eastbound passenger trains—the Pacemaker and the Twentieth Century Limited—fly past about ten minutes apart.

The show opened in stages in the darkness. We’d peer to our left, where the double tracks disappeared around a curve bending toward the Lake Erie shoreline. The first sign was a quiet singing of the rails, and the extended glow of the headlight beam, shining into the distant curve. An instant later, the crossing flashers lit up on three grade crossings in a row. Then the headlight and the train itself came around the bend, with the first long blast on the horn in the soulful sequence of Lonnng Lonnng Short Lonnnnnnnnnnng!

Even in the distance, those streamlined E-unit locomotives radiated nothing but power, as if they were born to fly. The track was a little wavy, and the headlights bobbed up and down as the thing bore down on us, threatening to leap off the track, and finally roared through the crossing with the final cry of the horn dopplering down in pitch as it passed at 70 or 80 miles per hour. Right behind came the long string of lit-up passenger cars, full of people bound for mysterious destinations. I always wondered where they were going, and why; and I longed to go, too. The last car was a rounded observation car, and I imagined sitting in comfort, watching the dark landscape reel away behind me. When that trailing car disappeared to the east, we would turn and wait for the next train, close on its heels.

http://cruiselinehistory.com/

I never rode the Twentieth Century, to my regret. I did once ride the Pacemaker with my dad, and it was great. Funny, though, that wondering mystery goes away when you’re on the inside of the train, to be replaced with other kinds of excitement and intrigue.

It’s been years since I’ve ridden a long-distance train just for the fun of it. But I hope that will change, when Amtrak accepts me (I hope!) into their just announced writers residency program! Yes, spurred by a wish expressed by a writer on Twitter, Amtrak has decided to offer free or low-cost long-distance train rides to selected writers—so they can get away and pursue their muse while riding the rails! All they want in return is for the writers to tweet or blog about their experiences. They’ll be opening to applications soon.

You can bet I’m applying. Wish me luck!

Meanwhile, I’ll just pretend I’m Cary Grant for a day

Writing Retreat Report

This retreat has been one of the most productive ever. I’m getting good pages written every day, and more importantly, I had a conceptual breakthrough that showed me what I was doing wrong in several chapters as we approach the end. The realization meant I had to back up and go at those chapters differently, but that’s how these things go sometimes. This change will affect how I write much of what is to follow. I feel so confident of this that I’m going to give you a sneak look at a crucial scene near the end of the book. Here it is. Don’t tell anyone what happens, though. This is probably about 850 manuscript pages into the book.

I’m also getting outdoors and exercising—alternating between rollerblading and biking on some of the excellent bike trails around here. I rode for the first time on the lovely Cape Cod Rail Trail, which winds through the central part of the Cape. It was on this ride that I saw my dream setting:

House by a lake (okay, a pond), with private floatplane drawn up to the shore. Does a dream house get any better than that?

Several times now, I’ve taken to the Cape Cod Canal bike trail, which is about the most scenic and relaxing afternoon/evening outing ever. It’s also an outlook of choice for the Cape Cod Central Railroad’s excursion trains. Here’s where they stop to turn the trains around for their return to Hyannis. And by that, I mean that they uncouple the engine from the front and take it around and attach it to the rear, making it the new front.

Here they are, hitching it up.

And away they go. I don’t know what that E-unit locomotive is doing on the back end. It looks like it’s acting as a booster. But I wouldn’t have thought the train long enough to need it. Anyway, it’s a nice-looking engine, grumbling farewell as it moves off.

I didn’t think until too late that I could have taken a nice movie of its departure. Oh well, maybe next time.

Images from a Writing Retreat

No, not of me writing. How boring would that be! Here’s some of what I saw and did during break times.

A few shots of my surroundings at the motel, with kibitzers:

Ducks, who later started grouping casually around me,
as they discovered my M&Ms
Geese (but you knew that)

A lone hen

 
Rollerblading along the Cape Cod Canal, after a hard afternoon of writing and relaxing:

Sagamore Bridge from bike path

Looking toward eastern end of canal
 The Cape Cod Central Railroad’s scenic lunch train:
Train in Hyannis station

Going the distance on rollerblades, to the other end of the canal, 13 miles roundtrip. Followed by an excellent meal of fish & chips & local IPA.

Bourne Bridge from bike path
Railroad Bridge near west end of canal

Alas, I must pack up today and bring it to an end! It’s been great!

Cape Cod Writing Retreat

I’ve just come back from a four-day writing retreat on Cape Cod, in the town of Sandwich, just over the Cape Cod Canal which marks the boundary of the Cape from the mainland of Massachusetts. Allysen set me up at a great B&B in Sandwich (the 1830 Quince Tree House), and I reveled in having time to myself, time to spend near the water, time to write, time to rollerblade along the bike path that runs most of the length of the canal. It was fabulous! Even in such a short time, I started to get more traction on the book. 

Here are some pix I took with my cellphone camera, most of them shot from the bike path while I was skating.

Foot traffic on the path, near the beginning in Sandwich.
In the distance to the south, you can just see the Sagamore Bridge.

Having passed the Sagamore Bridge,
now looking back north toward it.
A little farther on, looking south toward the Bourne Bridge,
and the RR bridge in the distance

The bike path begins near a long jetty that extends into Massachusetts Bay from northern end of the canal. I could have spent a week just watching the boats go through the canal (though I never did catch any of the commercial ships that are supposed to account for half the traffic). Not far along the coast are the beaches, and the salt marshes just inland of the dunes.

 
Sandwich salt marsh

Another highlight was taking a scenic ride on the Cape Cod Central RR, along the canal and past the cranberry bogs. It was a foggy evening, but that just made the canal eerie and beautiful in a different way. (For more money and an advance reservation, you can have an elegant dinner or a family-style supper on the train. That’s definitely on my to-do list with Allysen.)

The Sagamore Bridge, in the evening fog.

The last evening I was there, I got it into my head to skate the length of the bike path (6.5 miles) and take a picture of the train going over the beautiful 1930’s lift bridge at the south end of the canal. I succeeded, though the picture didn’t come out very well, so here’s a shot of the train passing along the canal, right next to the bike path.  And another of the RR bridge against the setting sun. Once I saw the train cross the bridge, and the sun setting behind the bridge, I realized that I’d just watched the sun go down, and I had six and a half miles of skating between me and my car! Flank speed! I just made it before the light failed.

Cape Cod Central RR dinner train, rumbling along the canal. 
The RR bridge at sunset, in the lowered position. 

Finally, I got to enjoy my favorite beer, Cape Cod IPA—and (somewhat to excess) my favorite foods, fresh fish and chips, scallops, and shrimp.

I’m ready to go back!

Writing Sitrep

Promises, promises. I swore I’d keep you informed how work was going on the new book, which in case you’re forgotten is called The Reefs of Time, fifth volume in the Chaos Chronicles. The answer is: slowly, but steadily. Life continues to get in the way sometimes. Especially life with kids and a mortgage. But I’m solving problems with the book one by one (story problems, I mean), and it’s getting there. This time I’m dealing with time travel—yes, in the Chaos universe, which is the same as the Starstream universe introduced in From a Changeling Star and Down the Stream of Stars. The starstream itself comes into play in this book, as well as the center of the galaxy, where the Survivors lurk. It’s my first real foray into time travel, and I’m finding that possibilities and complications pop out of the woodwork every time you turn around.

The really good news is that I realized just this week that I was enjoying working on the book a lot more than I have for quite a while. That’s the best news of all.

Meanwhile, to help pay the bills, I’m working with another author on a nonfiction project (as a paid consultant editor-writer, not as primary author). It’s taking us into some interesting areas of the law—and, as it turns out, the BP oilspill. Eeesh, what a mess!

It’s nice sometimes to retreat to my fictional pan-galactic world.